All this talk about some agro traders hoarding maize and intending to make a killing out of it is because, in the first place, government mishandled the food security issue in the country. And this is no secret. Government already owned up to the mess it has created in the country which has contributed to the rise in headline inflation now hovering around 24.9 percent.
Admarc was this week quoted to have carried out a survey to establish the amount of maize being held by agro traders in the country. In its findings, Admarc is said to have found that the agro traders are keeping as much as 208 000 metric tonnes of maize in their warehouses. This means that if this maize was offloaded on the market, there should have been no need for government to waste taxpayers money to import 50 000 metric tonnes from Tanzania.
But the question is: Why did Admarc not buy enough maize from the local market, in the first place, so that it could release it back to the people later at a cheaper price? For all I know, Admarc was created precisely for this purpose. So it cannot begin now to cry wolf that some of its competitors are hoarding maize so that they can export it. This is what happens when state institutions abrogate their responsibilities.
Admitted, the agro traders bought some of the maize from the local market—some of it from those who benefitted from the Fertiliser Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp). But that is the more reason, government, through Admarc, should ensure it buys enough maize locally knowing it has a social responsibility to put the maize back on the market at an affordable price.
But what we have seen is government making one mistake after another. This other week I talked about one commodity that is in critical short supply in the country apart from maize, namely: strategic planning among those charged with the responsibility of ensuring the country is food secure. Government has the most educated people in this field so the problem must be leadership.
Government has powers to regulate the exportation of maize. It does this from time to time—more so now when it subsidises maize production with the taxpayers money. Hence, there is no need for anyone to worry about the agro traders that they are keeping huge stocks of maize in the hope of exporting it. Our only worry should be government’s penchant for procrastination and failing to do the needful.
Now on Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe’s announcement in the Mid-year Budget Review that it will put a freeze on employment of teachers, nurses and other cadres. This is one of the measures Gondwe proposed this week following the budget cut from K930 billion to K906 billion.
I find these measures counterproductive. Government spends billions of kwacha to train nurses and teachers with a view to reducing the teacher-pupil as well as nurse-patient ratio. And one reason there is an outcry about poor educational standards in the country is because of the big teacher-pupil ratio. On the other hand, health delivery services in public hospitals is pathetic, to say the least, partly because the hospitals are understaffed. I don’t even need to volunteer statistics to make a case here. This is common knowledge.
Currently, there are hundreds of nurses and teachers who were trained by government and are expecting the same to employ them. For government to say now that it will not employ them does not make sense. Would government then blame them that they are unpatriotic when they leave the country in search of jobs elsewhere?
Rather than increase the budget for Foreign Affairs, government should have raised the budget for the education and health sectors to ensure that all those who have completed their training are employed. I hope Members of Parliament have taken note of this and will shoot down the proposed increase in the Foreign Affairs’ budget and use the money to employ the hundreds of jobless nurses and teachers. n